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Suspect in arson attack on South African Parliament deemed mentally unfit for trial

A man charged with terrorism and other offenses over a 2022 fire that badly damaged South Africa’s historic Parliament complex in Cape Town was declared unfit to stand trial by a court on Monday.

Zandile Mafe was diagnosed with schizophrenia by an expert panel in a report, and a judge in the Western Cape High Court ruled that he agreed with the assessment. Judge Nathan Erasmus said that Mafe wasn’t able to understand the charges against him.

Mafe has said he’s fit to stand trial and has admitted in previous court hearings to starting the blaze in January 2022. He said he did it in protest against Parliament, the local government in Cape Town and the national government. He said all of them have failed South Africa’s people.


In a previous court outburst, he threatened to burn the Parliament building again and challenged the court to send him to prison, saying he wasn’t afraid of a life sentence.

Mafe’s lawyer said at Monday’s hearing that he would appeal the ruling and wants his client to stand trial. Mafe was also charged with arson and breaking and entering.

The huge fire was started sometime late at night on New Year’s Day or early in the morning of Jan 2. Lawmakers and Parliament workers were on vacation and the buildings were closed and unoccupied. No one was hurt.


It burned for three days and needed more than 300 firefighters to ultimately extinguish it. An old Parliament building now used for offices and the National Assembly building where South Africa’s lawmakers sit were both badly damaged, with parts of them completely gutted.

The National Assembly building was where then President F.W. de Klerk stood up at the opening of Parliament in 1990 and announced that he was freeing Nelson Mandela from prison and effectively ending the apartheid system of white minority rule, a moment that reverberated around the world.

The National Assembly chamber is still closed and estimates say the damage will cost around $120 million and take at least three years to repair. The fire also led to criticism of apparent security failings.

Mafe was arrested at the Parliament complex soon after the fire was reported.

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